It’s not easy being optimistic. Just when we think we have everything figured out life has a habit of throwing a wrench into the works. But we cope; we have to. It’s “how” we cope that’s variable. It’s times like those in which it’s important to have a base on which to support yourself. Regardless of our differences most of us have a base composed of the same material, friends and loved ones who, regardless of disagreements, will always be there to hold us up when we are weak.
Inspired by events in the playwright’s life, Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias depicts the interactions of six women at Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinpuapin, Louisiana on four separate Saturdays over the course of three years. As time marches on we witness how their careers, love lives, and health change, and see the solidarity of their friendship strengthen.
The production takes no time at all to welcome you to the eternally warm and welcoming Truvy (Samantha Brewer), the queen of southern comfort, and her equally hospitable salon. Brewer is instantly convivial as hostess to her friends, never allowing anyone to feel unwelcome in her company (“No one cries alone in my presence”). While this may be her territory her kinship with everyone who walks through her door is ever-present in her infectious cheer. Heather Bullard, as Truvy’s new employee Annelle, has the tricky task of juggling Annelle’s ever-changing attitude as she finds herself ingratiated into the salon gang. From a nervous newcomer with “nothing to say” to a product of Truvy’s influence and a born-again Baptist, Bullard covers each facet of Annelle skillfully, allowing each “character” to feel differentiated from the previous one while still remaining recognizable as the same person. However, the clear standout of the cast is Judith Laird as the cynical, serious, weary, “in a bad mood for forty years”, and somewhat intimidating yet always sincere and approachable Ouiser. Laird adds an appropriate dose of bitter charm to the otherwise sweet group of friends that rounds out the cast nicely. Every group of friends has the one charming cynic, and Laird fulfils that role perfectly. Filled out by Katie Brock as the late mayor’s wife Clairee, and Terah Risner and Tracy Hurd as mother and daughter Shelby and M’Lynn, the cast creates a comfortable community of women who clearly have their disagreements but never let those come between them.
As a whole, the cast is believable as longtime friends who speak their own language, as friends do, and would do
anything for one another, a group who is only upset with one another when one doesn’t share their troubles with them. A cast such as this needs a comfortable, familial location to act. The set of Truvy’s Beauty Salon, created by director and designer Andy Berkovsky, is perfect for this production in that it feels more like the living room of a friend’s home rather than a place of business. Decorated with cozy wicker furniture, light pastel colors, and a door always open for company, it was easy to forget at times that Truvy’s salon wasn’t a home. The salon is small without being cramped, allowing the cast to maneuver the set and claim a spot for themselves while giving everyone else the room to move. It created the welcoming environment needed for a play whose strength comes from the friendship of its cast.
Steel Magnolias has its occasional hiccups; a few lines were stumbled, some of the scene changes took more time than they should have considering how little was being changed, and the audio sometimes ended abruptly, but these aren’t faults that break the show. It’s a cute, delightful show that will leave you with a bittersweet yet hopeful flavor in your mouth. If nothing else, it’s enjoyable to spend time with the ladies of Truvy’s Beauty Salon as it would be to spend time with any close-knit friends.
Steel Magnolias plays for one more weekend at The City Theatre from January 1st to 3rd at 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and 3pm on Sunday.